Flowers poking their heads out of the ground; breezy, 70-degree weather; longer days—all harbingers of spring. But Texans mark the changing of the seasons with another tradition: crawfish boils.
Seafood boils are popular throughout the country, especially during the summertime, with shrimp boils, crab boils, fish boils, and clambakes providing reasons for folks to gather around a steaming pot of food outdoors and eat from a large community table.
In Texas and Louisiana, crawfish boils are the most popular form of the event. They typically take place March to May because freshwater crawfish grow best in warmer temperatures and with lots of rain. Traditionally, the crawfish are stewed with corn, sausage, potatoes, and spices, then dumped on a long table so friends, family, and neighbors can enjoy a messy afternoon.
“Crawfish are just neat little things,” says Todd Maddox, owner of Plooky’s Cajun Boiling Pot in Canyon Lake, which was featured on season six of Queer Eye. “You can look at them and they’re either cute or ugly. You get both reactions.”
Crawfish boils trace back to Cajun and Creole communities in western Louisiana; they later spread to Southeast Texas. And now they’ve been adopted all over the state as the perfect excuse to host a casual backyard soiree when the weather turns beautiful.
“When you got that one friend who knows how to boil, you’ll get together with beer and boil them up,” Maddox says. “When they’re done, everybody sits around and eats until they’re full. It’s a social thing, the camaraderie gathering around the pot and the table, just eating.”
Whether you’re a first-timer or a regular host who just needs some fresh ideas, this guide will prep you for throwing the best boil ever.
You will need a large stock pot with a basket insert (sixty-quart is good), which runs anywhere from around $80 to $180 and can be purchased at Home Depot, Walmart, or Lowe’s. You’ll also need a gas or propane burner big enough to hold the pot. Have an ice chest handy to clean off the mudbugs—a nickname crawfish acquired for being, well, dirty.
It’s not a proper crawfish boil unless the finished product is dumped out for hands to reach out and grab whatever speaks to the stomach, so you are also going to need a long table (six feet or longer, depending on how many guests you are expecting) covered with newspaper, butcher paper, or even a fun tablecloth. It might help to put some buckets on the ends of the table for people to discard the shells. Since this is a no-silverware, no-plates type of feast, you can never have too many paper towels around to wipe your hands.
There are plenty of places to acquire crustaceans, including your local H-E-B or fish market. While a lot of crawfish eaten in Texas are shipped in from Louisiana, for the freshest possible crawfish, consider buying directly from a Texas farm, like Bayou Best Crawfish in Sour Lake, Southeast Texas Crawfish Farm in Hamshire, or Texas Crawdaddy’s in Winnie.
Johnny Horne, who owns the Cajun Tex restaurants in Marshall and Hallsville and is known as Crazy Cajun Johnny on TikTok, recommends purchasing three to five pounds of live crawfish per person, depending on how hungry your guests are. But beware, crawfish prices have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. This season, crawfish currently averages around $5 per pound, according to Carol Huntsberger, owner of Austin’s Quality Seafood Market. She said this is due to low supply thanks to multiple hurricanes in Louisiana, including Ida, as well as February and March freezes.
You are going to want something to snack on while the crawfish are boiling. To avoid too many rumbling stomachs, whip up this Texas caviar to serve alongside tortilla chips. Plus, it isn’t a Southern shindig without something fried, so add these hush puppies or some classic fried okra.
Horne and his wife, Donna, opened Cajun Tex in Marshall in 2007 and have since opened a second location in Hallsville, just west of town. The restaurant serves po’boys, ribeye steaks, and gumbo. But make no mistake: the most popular thing on the menu is the deeply spicy crawfish. Cook with caution!
Serves around 8–10 people (or, as Horne jokes, 4–6 Cajuns)
4 pounds of Louisiana Fish Fry Crawfish, Shrimp & Crab Boil spice
2 cups Louisiana Fish Fry Liquid Crab Boil
2 cups chopped garlic
1 pound butter
6 jumbo yellow onions, cut in half
4 ounces ghost pepper powder
6 lemons, cut in half
30–40 pounds live crawfish, cleaned
5 pounds corn on the cob, cut into 2-inch pieces
5 pounds small red potatoes, halved
5 pounds andouille sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
- Fill a 50-quart pot halfway with water. Combine spices, Liquid Crab Boil, garlic, butter, onions, ghost pepper powder, and lemons in the pot with the water. Bring the water to a rolling boil.
- Add in crawfish and boil for 8 minutes.
- Turn the fire off and add in corn, potatoes, and sausage. Leave everything to soak for at least 25 minutes—35 minutes if you want it to be really hot, and 45 minutes if you are going for blazing hot.
- Drain everything and throw it on the table.
For newbies, actually eating the crawfish can be the most intimidating part, especially since it is not the most graceful experience. Use your hands to break the tail off from the rest of the body, peel the first ridge of the tail away, and then squeeze or suck the meat out. If you are feeling adventurous, open the body of the crawfish and suck the yellow stuff—an organ known as “crawfish butter” and considered the best part—out of the head.
If you need a visual aid, check out this TikTok tutorial from Lotus Seafood, a seafood restaurant with four locations in and around Houston.
Beer and Wine Pairings
Whether you prefer beer, wine, or cider, you’re going to need something cool and refreshing to wash all that spice down and to keep the party going around a fire all night long. We asked Texas Monthly’s beer expert, Aaron Chamberlain, and wine expert, Jessica Dupuy, for their suggestions for Texas-made drinks that go perfectly with mudbugs.
Saint Arnold Brewing Company Spring Bock
Bock, 6.9 percent ABV
This dark lager debuted way back in 1998 and is a welcome guest at any crawfish boil. Its malty backbone is hefty enough to stand up to any level of heat. As a bonus, it’s party ready and available in twelve-packs.
St. Elmo Brewing Company Carl
Kölsch-style beer, 4.6 percent ABV
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more drinkable brew than a well-made Kölsch, a lager and ale hybrid originally from Cologne, Germany. St. Elmo’s Carl has a crisp bite and delicate flavor that makes it dangerously crushable.
Tupps Brewery Juice Pack
Dry-hopped pale ale, 5.5 percent ABV
Nothing ruins a crawfish boil faster than a guest drinking four double IPAs and tipping the boil kettle over. Luckily, Tupps Brewery, out of McKinney, has Juice Pack, a pale ale that provides that hop fix without spoiling the festivities. It’s balanced—not too bitter, not too fruity—and will pair well with the entire spread.
Texas Keeper No. 1
Austin-based Texas Keeper Cider uses heirloom American apples from a fifth-generation farmer in upstate New York to make a variety of styles, including its flagship No. 1. With notes of Bosc pear and summer melon, this blend of different apple varieties offers a combination of fruitiness, sparkle, and the slightest touch of sweetness.
Farmhouse Vineyards Boyfriend
Brimming with floral and tropical-fruit aromatics, this pretty little spritzer is made from 100 percent Malvasia Bianca and delivers the same peachy flavors you’d expect from a crisp Moscato d’Asti in the summertime. The hint of sweetness on this semidry sparkler adds a perfect counterbalance to spicy fare.
2021 Lost Draw Cellars Sparkling Pinot Meunier
For a little more heft with a bit of red-berry backbone, this pink bubbly is just the thing. Made from one of the classic grape varieties for Champagne, Pinot Meunier, this wine shows the potential of a grape typically grown in a cooler climate. This wine is bone-dry, with a hint of summer strawberries and a zesty lift on the palate.
Although we don’t expect you to have many leftovers, if you do find yourself saddled with extra crawfish, you can make Cajun Tex’s swamp nachos, a favorite among East Texas locals.
To make the snack, mix 6 ounces of leftover crawfish tails and 4 ounces of diced boudin with Cajun seasoning. Blacken the mixture on the grill before putting it on top of tortilla chips. Top it off with 6 ounces of queso, diced tomatoes, banana peppers, and green onions.